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Senate health and education chair defends decisions to keep kids home from school during pandemic

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Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said she is “proud” of how Democrats handled getting kids back in the classroom while dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, defending school closures even while acknowledging the impact it that policy has had on children.

Speaking on the subject on CNN’s “State of the Union,” host Dana Bash asked Murray if it was a “mistake” to keep students home for so long. The question arose in light of a Department of Education report on the nation’s plummeting test scores released Thursday, which showed dramatic losses across the board for students in the US.

“Dana, this was a decision by local school officials and our scientific experts who were trying to prevent a pandemic that was killing millions of Americans to protect their children, to protect their staff, to protect their communities. I’m proud that when the Democrats gained control a year and a half ago, Democrats voted for the American Rescue Plan that helped get our kids back to school safely, making sure our schools had testing, supplies, ventilation, and the ability to make sure that their kids could be safe at school. And today, virtually every kid is back in school. That’s what I focused on, making sure that we were providing the resources to our schools so that they could reopen safely, and that’s what we have today.”

Murray went on to acknowledge that “we have a problem with kids not going to school,” stating that she is “very focused … on making sure we help get our kids back to where they need to be.”

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Bash pressed the point, trying to get away from discussing the circumstances of the pandemic at the time.

“In retrospect, there is no doubt?” Bash asked. “Given the numbers that he’s seeing, the decline that we just talked about, are you still comfortable with how school districts, even in his home state, have handled the pandemic?”

Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash. she speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at her office on Capitol Hill in Washington.
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

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Those numbers included reading scores in 2022 for 9-year-olds down 5 points and math scores down 7 compared to 2020. The Department for Education said this was “the largest average reading score decline since 1990, and the first in history.” decrease in math score.

Still, Murray’s response remained the same.

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“I think we were in unprecedented times at the time, where people were really struggling to figure out what was the best thing to do, to make sure that their children, their families, their children were safe,” he said.

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